With Science and Technology leading advancements in the world, a serious matter of concern is the low employment of women in the STEM fields. Statistics reveal a very poor rate of induction of women in STEM fields, causative factors being attributed to:
Lack of interest among girls at school-going age: The mindset of society that Engineering and Science are men’s domains, and Humanities are women’s, affects girls’ involvement in Maths and Science, resulting in them being left out of the field at an early age. Inadequacy in proper guidance and unavailability of sufficient quality teachers in the primary and secondary levels also corrodes the inclination towards these subjects.
Poor facilities for girls with interest: Even if girls have the interest and the talent to deliver, they are not provided with adequate facilities to nurture their talents, compared to their male counterparts.
Lack of support from family: Many parents adhere to the societal norms that daughters are ultimately going to end up in wedlock and become part of another home. Therefore daughters are advised to stay away from ingenious careers in STEM fields, which possibly require more time and dedication.
Occupational discrepancies: The few women who make it to the STEM sector have to work harder to carve their niche. With fewer openings at the top and in significant posts, they need to strive harder than men, in many cases, to ‘prove themselves’ capable of reaching the pinnacle and yet are rarely able to break the glass ceiling. Firms often are biased towards recruiting women due to risks in field visits, frequent touring, late night engagements and sanctioning of leave for motherhood.
Marital issues: The moment a woman in STEM field enters into wedlock, a new chapter of multifaceted problems open up, as there are hardly any support systems that enable a woman to strike a work-life balance. This results in stress, which magnifies in the eventuality of motherhood, compelling the woman to surrender to pressure.
Psychological pressure: Motherhood may be a blessing for a woman but for a working woman, inflexible maternity leaves combined with long working hours and extensive travel cause problems in her life, forcing her to quit under pressure, in many instances. With no cooperation forthcoming, whether it is from family members at home or official machinery at work, many women find balancing work and home a herculean task, consequently resulting in her quitting. Besides, once women have taken a break of more than a year, companies are reluctant to give them a chance to resume their careers.
Cultural barriers: Tradition decides a woman’s efficiency based on her culinary skills and domestic management. Though she may excel in her career and financially support her family, her family and society assess her on her ability to manage home and kids. The unequal footing on the domestic front weighs heavy on the women who struggle hard to burn the candle at both ends. In their attempt to be perfect in both worlds, women could succumb to health problems which ultimately results in them abandoning their careers and sacrificing their dreams.
Lack of inspirational role models: Girls grow up seeing women in powerful positions only as doctors and lawyers, apart from teachers, models, air hostesses and nurses. With the media promoting stereotypes, where programmers are nerds and or well-known women are fashion divas, it has a tendency to orient young girls’ minds towards modelling and air hostess courses, where short-time glamour is attractive and giving up a career after a certain period is not unusual.
SOLUTIONS: It is high time we work out solutions to promote more women in STEM fields.
Empower young minds: At the primary school level, both boys and girls ought to be taught gender equality. Domain categorisation based on gender needs to be replaced with the thought that the doors are open to all, irrespective of sex. The concept of a career in STEM field is to be inspired in boys and girls together so as to eliminate the unequal footing. Boys ought to be taught to respect women around them.
Organise motivational sessions: Adolescent and young women need to be motivated to become independent citizens, and made to realise their importance in society. This does happen in urban areas to some extent but begs for attention in semi-urban and rural areas. They need to be instructed that a woman’s job is not only managing the home, rather she has the right to carve a niche for herself in society.
Create environs for more women participation: The curriculum should be redesigned to induct more women in STEM fields. Fairs, camps and counselling sessions based on technology need to be conducted especially for women to arouse their interest in STEM fields.
Promote role models in STEM fields: Mass media must stop portraying women only in “light” jobs. Success stories of women engineers, technicians and so on need to be highlighted. Social recognition of role models will encourage the younger generation to follow their example.
Flexibility and assistance: Offices should make workplaces more conducive to working mothers, with support systems like a creche, flexibility in hours, as long as reasonable targets are met; and establishment of sexual harassment and gender harassment committees to prevent exploitation and abuse. Agencies can also be established to counsel and help married women facing problems in STEM fields. Women need to be encouraged to seek assistance and solution to their problems related to motherhood, children and family, rather than jumping to the conclusion of abandoning their careers.
Equal pay and opportunities: There is a tendency in many fields to pay women lower salaries than their male counterparts for the same job. This has to change and the concept of equal pay must be implemented. Women who take a break from their careers also tend to find it more difficult to secure a job than men in the same position. Companies must recognise their experience and give them opportunities to restart their careers at a reasonable level and not from scratch.
— Paramita Mishra (The author teaches Communicative English and Personality Development. Contact: email@example.com)